Artists show interest in River John

Arts & Entertainment Community

RIVER JOHN – Creativity and expression will be abound in River John this week as artists converge on the village to be inspired.

Joy Laking saw what was happening in River John when they were facing the school closure and the community spirit that existed there and wanted to capture that moment in time.

“Joy wanted to help, to draw attention to and support all of the positive things in the community,” explains Sheree Fitch, point person for the week.

“She got together a group of friends who will create art throughout the week and at the end of the week there will be an exhibit. It’s like the first artist colony here.”
Artists include four painters, one photographer, one sculptor, a songwriter, equalling seven, as well as five writers.

“This is really easy to get excited about,” explains Fitch. “And 30 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the art at the exhibit will go back to the River John Action Society for the betterment of the community.”

A couple from the community has donated their home to the artists for a week so they can immerse themselves in the culture.

Laking, who lives in Bass River, grew up in Ontario.

“I live in rural Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy and we are experiencing all the same things as River John. It seems with the arts, people see beauty and what they have. (The hope is) this will give the area a boost and make people feel good about where they live.”

Laking has been painting for 66 years.

“My mother was a painter and she told me be anything you want, but don’t be an artist,” she laughs.

The idea is for the seven artists and the writers to be inspired by River John through the week and create something from that.

The artists mostly come from across Nova Scotia with the songwriter coming from Ontario.

Laking will be focusing on the physical beauty of River John in her painting(s) while photographer Laurie Gunn, will be focusing on landscapes as well as people.

Gunn has been interested in photography since the age of 10, but it wasn’t until she was inspired by photographer Freeman Patterson of New Brunswick that she went out and purchased her first “really nice camera, now I have many nice cameras,” laughs Gunn.

She loves travelling and recently returned from Mongolia where she was taking portraits and capturing the essence of the people.

Gunn says she wanted to take part in the event because Laking is a good friend and she has a love of River John.

“I love River John. I lived here 40 years ago and I feel really bad that they lost their school.”

Gunn was the United Church minister’s wife in River John with a new baby 40 years ago and says the community welcomed her and made her feel like she was part of something; this is her way of giving back.

In River John she plans to take photos of the artists working, especially their hands, as well as the people of the village.

Dawn MacNutt, a sculptor from Little Harbour, although not spending the week in River John, will be participating by creating a sculpture inspired by the village.
She has been sculpting for more than 40 years, beginning as a weaver and painter and expanding from there.

MacNutt has experimented with various mediums over the years, moving to willow so she could be outside more, but she also enjoys bronze casting.

“This week I will be working with willow or woven wire. My interest is people.”
She will be visiting periodically through the week to be inspired, but working from her studio in Little Harbour.

“I can’t help but see this place and think it takes a village to raise a child. This community is such a village community in terms of supporting each other…”
MacNutt says she wanted to help out because she grew very fond of Fitch and her leadership and activism when it came to the River John School.

“I didn’t know at first how I would fit in with the painters, so I was a bit reluctant, but I’m here to soak up the vibes and the people and the community.”

Monica Graham is one of the writers involved in the event. She will be writing a piece throughout the week.

“I’ve been writing since I was five, but wrote my first book in 2000,” she explains.
Graham says Fitch approached her about taking part and she liked the idea.

“All of the different artists getting together and inspiring each other. It’s like a critical mass. (Artistry) is an industry and people need to remember that. It’s just as important when talking about funding cuts…”

Graham says she was interested to find out what the other artists were doing and what has been going on in their careers.

“Sometimes I wish I could be a painter or a sculptor, I can do it vicariously this week,” she laughs.

Graham says she will likely be writing about her inspiration from the artists themselves.

The week culminates on August 19 with an art exhibit at the Hub School in River John.


Susan Paterson, a painter; Laurie Gunn, photographer; William Rogers, painter; Dawn MacNutt, sculptor; Joy Laking, painter and Sheree Fitch, writer, joined together last week to kick off the Group of 7’s River John: Through Our Eyes. The event is a week-long experience where seven artists will live in the community and create something that has inspired them from their stay. (Harvie photo)

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